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Nigeria, a Failed State Report – USAF

  • The top 1 percent of Nigeria’s wealthiest families control over 80 percent of the oil profits

Nations fail for a myriad of reasons including cultural and religious conflict, a broken social contract between the government and the governed, a catastrophic disaster, financial collapse, and war.

Nigeria, like many nations in sub-Saharan Africa, the Middle East, Southwest Asia, and Southeast Asia, is a compelling candidate for failure.

In its relatively short modern history, Nigeria has survived five military coups and separatist and religious wars.

It is currently mired in an active armed insurgency over disastrous ecological conditions in the Niger Delta region and is fighting a difficult battle against one of the worst legacies of political and economic corruption in the modern world.

Nigeria with its vast oil wealth, the largest population in Africa, and its strategic economic and geographical position could, if it fails, disproportionately impact the United States and the global economy.

Civil war is the most likely outcome of almost any state failure. 

Failed State—Nigeria

Nigeria has been called the best example of the “paradox of plenty,” where tremendous natural resources create great wealth, which in turn creates “extravagant corruption, deep poverty, polarized income distributions, and poor economic performance.”

While the Department of State views Nigeria as relatively stable, increasing conflict is occurring along a religious fault line that bifurcates this African nation.

What is worrisome is that the 2007 Failed State Index ranks Nigeria as the country 17th most likely to fail out of the 147 states they analyzed,65 where failure implies the state cannot govern itself nor can it provide for internal security and the basic needs of its people.

Further, when states fail, it is usually a long-term problem.

A World Bank study shows that states listed as failed in 1980 are generally still failed today, and they estimate the average failed state will require 56 years to recover.

A Failure We Cannot Ignore

Of concern in this future is that few states have the potential to be as disruptive to the United States and the global economy as a failed Nigeria. Nigeria is one of the world’s 20 largest economies and largest suppliers of light “sweet” crude oil, with a daily export of over 2.4 million barrels a day.67 By 2030 roughly a quarter of US oil imports will likely be supplied by Nigeria.

While infrastructure investments in Nigeria are limited, they have yielded more reliable electricity for the cities and better roads in oil areas. Road improvements may allow for growth in the agricultural sector, especially in the north, and for natural resource development to diversify the economy.

The top 1 percent of Nigeria’s wealthiest families control over 80 percent of the oil profits, and they may seek to improve their personal portfolios by investing in new technology areas overseas.

Should oil revenues not be invested in improving the north, or should corruption prove entrenched, this could spark greater animosity among regions, resurrecting issues of reduced government legitimacy.

Nigeria has the largest population in Africa, nearly 25 percent of the continent’s total, and it is growing. Expected to surpass 225 million people before 2030, Nigeria could become the fifth most populous nation on earth.

Despite being a former British colony with English as its official language, Nigeria is diverse, with over 350 separate ethnic groups—more than any other country in Africa.

Four main groups make up over three quarters of this population:

Hausa and Fulani (29 percent), Yoruba (21 percent), and Igbo (18 percent). Eight other significant population groups, with their own languages that define them politically and culturally, make up the remainder.

These disparities and the trappings of Nigeria’s colonial past have created tensions that make establishing an integrated, coherent, and legitimate government difficult.73 By 2030 Nigeria’s robust population will have an average age of 16.7 years and a life expectancy of 54 years.

As such, Nigeria will likely have many disaffected and underemployed people.74 It already has the sixth largest Muslim population in the world75 and has a nearly equal balance of Muslims and Christians.

This balance is currently at a potential tipping point because of the faster population growth in the Islamic north, which is ruled under Sharia law, unlike the Christian provinces in the south.

By 2030 Nigeria’s Islamic population will likely comprise a majority of the electorate, which will fundamentally change the Nigerian domestic political situation.

With limited industrial development and oil production consigned mainly to the Christian south, 90 percent of funding to the states and localities is provided by the federal government, largely from oil export revenues.

A complex federal oil wealth sharing program provides each state with calculated shares.

The formula includes population, level of development, and sources of oil revenues.

State governors budget and distribute this money, with much of the oil wealth flowing to the predominant political party.

While revenue sharing provides much needed government funding for the nonlucrative agrarian north, it also intensifies ethnic tension between the north and the oil-producing south.

This ethnic tension combined with rampant corruption, whereby politicians frequently “skim” some of the earnings, has resulted in the federal government’s loss of legitimacy. Losses of legitimacy in the past led to military coups d’état in 1966, 1975, 1983, 1985, and 1993.

In most cases, military leaders delayed coup attempts until there was considerable public dissatisfaction with the elected government, thus ensuring the military, although often just as corrupt in their rule, would be “welcomed as redeemers.”

Nigeria’s oil production may approach five million barrels a day between now and 2030, but this will likely decline in the out years due to domestic political instability, corruption, and the continued criminal insurgency by the Movement for the Emancipation of the Niger Delta (MEND).

These conditions alone could reduce Nigerian oil flow by up to 25 percent.

Nigeria’s military currently has four primary functions: preserving Nigeria’s territorial integrity, contributing to national emergencies and security, promoting collective security in Africa while furthering Nigerian foreign policy, and contributing to global security.

The president of Nigeria is the commander in chief of Nigeria’s military forces.

He decides when and how to employ the armed forces, while day-today military operations are managed by the Ministry of Defense.

The Nigerian army, with almost 60,000 troops, commands the largest share of the military budget and resources.

The Nigerian navy and air force represent about 7,000 and 9,000 personnel respectively of the overall military strength of about 76,000.

Nigeria Shatters The Nigerian army is fighting what the government terms an active insurgency by MEND. Their attacks on oil infrastructure and workers since 2005 have reduced oil production by 25 percent.

The group attacks to increase the price of oil in order to compel the world to force the Nigerian government to address the grievances of the indigenous people of the Niger Delta region.

With all these structural problems, there exists the possibility for dissolution or full civil war within Nigeria.

As the Islamic population in the north grows, Nigeria is faced with a transfer of power from the Christian oil-rich south to the Islamic agrarian and less-well-off north. In this alternate future, a loss of financial support from outside investors triggers a collapse in the economy.

This, in turn, forces the ruling and corrupt Christian government to hold early elections where a well-organized and united slate of Islamic candidates and parties win.

The conflict between the two religious factions intensifies as the ruling party refuses to cede control of the oil wealth and its trappings, and refuses to hand off power to a newly elected Islamic government, which declares Nigeria an Islamic Republic.

This situation triggers a national crisis and the failure of the Nigerian state.

With the loss of federal control and the revolt of MEND and the former leaders, Nigeria splits into lawless areas and criminal fiefdoms.

With hundreds of ethnicities, Nigeria is ripe for fragmentation into a myriad of pieces. With no central authority, legitimate economic activity rapidly declines and is replaced by criminality.

Oil workers flee the violence, abandoning their facilities in search of safety, which effectively halts oil production throughout the Niger Delta region and the Gulf of Guinea. The resultant global oil shock is painful.

The United States and the global economies are threatened, and the population of Nigeria—roughly one quarter of a billion strong, is faced with imminent pestilence, famine, and civil war.

Thus in this future, Nigeria succumbs to a variety of ills—corruption, weak government institutions, a failure to meet the social welfare needs of its people, unchecked criminality, crumbling infrastructure, a strong insurgency in the Niger Delta region, and a loss of confidence by international investors.

By 2030 the Nigerian government loses its national support from its diverse people and, with the exception of the 12 Islamic-dominated states in the north, no longer functions as a nation-state.

The collapse of central control and the eruption of violence in the wake of the elections halts oil production, destroys national governance, and threatens to plunge Nigeria and perhaps West Africa into civil war.



Excerprs from the Report:

Blue Horizons II, Future Capabilities and Technologies for the Air Force in 2030 – by John P. Geis II, PhD, Col, USAF, Christopher J. Kinnan, Col, USAF, Ted Hailes, Col, USAF (Retired), Harry A. Foster, Col, USAF, David Blanks, Col, USAF

July 2009

The Occasional papers series

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